Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — SP4 Robert Thomas Callan

Image source: The Wall of Faces, “Rob in Vietnam,” photographer unknown.

Memorial Day is America’s day to remember those who died in service to their country. Last year, I began what I hope will become a tradition, of remembering one of the many who paid “the last full measure” from the Mahoning Valley. In my post from last year, one of the comments remembered Robert Thomas Callan. I thought I would see what I could find and tell a bit of his story.

Robert was born on February 12, 1950, the son of Thomas and Anne Christoff Callan. He and his family were members of St. Dominic’s Church. His sister Nancy described him as “a quality person, so kind and generous and courteous and polite.” Elsewhere, his three sisters wrote: “In life, Bobby taught us to laugh, to ride a bike, to play football and how to open Christmas gifts before Christmas without anyone knowing we already saw our gifts.”  He was a Cardinal Mooney graduate. After high school he worked at the Republic Rubber Division of Aeroquip for a year before he was drafted by the Selective Service.

He began his tour of duty in Vietnam on April 14, 1970.  He held the rank of Specialist Four and was an Aircraft Maintenance Crewman attached to the 101st Airborne Division, 101st Aviation Battalion, C Company. He hoped to begin a carpentry apprenticeship after completing his tour of duty.

After returning from a leave to Hawaii on December 10, his helicopter crew was on a mission on December 16, 1970 when it came under hostile fire in Thua Thien Province in what was then South Vietnam. He was posted as a door gunner at the time, a vulnerable position. He died of wounds in the subsequent crash of the helicopter, his body being recovered and returned to Youngstown for burial. He lies at rest in Calvary Cemetery.

He was honored in death, being awarded the Purple Heart, Air Medal, National Defense, Vietnam Service, and Vietnam Campaign Medals. His name appears on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Panel W6, Line 124. Robert Thomas Callan served with honor and died in that service. He is one of many from the Mahoning Valley who has done so. He, and they are worth honor this Memorial Day.

Who do you remember for their faithful service to country this Memorial Day?

We remember.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Could We Just Stop Using the Label “Pro-Life”?

Photo by Rene Asmussen on

I did not have a book ready for review today and so jotted down some of my own thoughts about the Texas school shooting and the claims of our politicians to be pro-life. If this is more controversial than you like, here’s your chance to take a pass.

The shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas have reinforced my conviction that as a nation we have decided to sacrifice our children on an altar of guns. And it is not just Uvalde. There has been more than one mass shooting a day in the United States this year. We have more guns than people in this country. You cannot turn on the news in my city without reports of a shooting, often resulting in one or more deaths. Most of those both killing and dying are young.

And no neighborhood is safe. I thought I lived in a “safe” neighborhood until a woman was murdered in her front yard by a stalker. This was little more than a block away. I heard the shots and thought they were fireworks. Until I saw the news the next day. No place is truly safe when there are more guns than people and people seem angrier than ever. I’ve learned not to respond to aggressive drivers. They could be carrying. Some live with this all the time. I predict more of us will.

What is most disturbing in my state and many others is that the very people who have aggressively promoted pro-life measures are the same ones removing all the safeguards on gun ownership. We now have a permitless carry of concealed weapons law in our state but there has been no action on “red flag” laws that would allow a court ordered restriction of the access of someone with mental health issues to a gun–a measure the overwhelming majority of the American public favors. Such orders may be sought by family or law enforcement, require a court ruling and due process, and have limits protecting civil liberties. Yet even such measures do not impair law abiding citizens from buying any gun they want.

That is why I want politicians to stop using the label “pro-life.” Almost none that I know are consistently pro-life. They are only pro-life in the areas their base wants them to be pro-life. Which, from what I can see is “pro-fetus.” I wonder how much most of them really care for mothers and the life they are bearing. I say all this as someone who is pro-life in this sense.

What would it mean to be consistently pro-life?

  • Protecting the life of the unborn, unless this endangers the life of the mother.
  • Pro-life means access to all mothers to good pre-natal and post-natal care and affordable, quality daycare.
  • Pro-life means access to quality health care for all of our citizens, no matter your zip code or economic status. Good preventive care may actually save money as well as lives, especially for urban hospitals where the emergency room is the doctor’s office.
  • Pro-life means addressing issues of mental health. Often, mental health is something discussed by those who oppose even sensible gun measures, but then nothing is done to provide good mental health care, especially for those whose conditions might lead them to harm themselves or others.
  • Pro-life cares about our addiction crisis. Over 100,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the US in the period ending in April 2021.
  • Pro-life cares about elder care. The warehousing of the elderly and the high numbers of COVID deaths early on in the pandemic in congregate care settings points up the lack in our care for our elder population.
  • Pro-life cares about the world we live in, the air, the water, and the climate. In some parts of the world, extended droughts threaten life as do prolonged high temperatures.
  • And pro-life is committed to substantive measures to reduce gun violence. As long as guns are ubiquitous, so will be gun violence. Pro-life asks, “why do we want guns?” Certainly there are legitimate reasons, but I believe that when many buy a gun, they make an implicit decision that they are willing to take a life. Sadly, most often, it will be the life of someone they know, or even their own life. Guns turn a momentary angry or self-destructive impulse into a fatal act.

I know few politicians who affirm a consistent pro-life ethic covering all of life for all people, no matter their status. So I wish they would stop saying they are pro-life because in my ears it is a hypocritical statement. At the same time, the politicians we elect reflect the people who elect them. For most of us, we cannot claim to be consistently pro-life either. We are selectively pro-life. We are not terribly disturbed that people in another zip code in our city have a much lower life expectancy, just because of where they live, or that some small island nations may have to find another place to live because their homes may be submerged.

Maybe as a country, we need to face that we have embraced a culture of death. We celebrate it in our videogames, television, and movies. We seem relatively indifferent to the 100,000 drug deaths or a million COVID deaths or the gun violence occurring every day in any major city. It makes me wonder how quickly we will forget the 19 beautiful children and two dedicated teachers who died in Uvalde. Already, those who died at the Topp’s grocery store in Buffalo are fading from view. Equally, we are indifferent to the nearly 42 million abortions in the U.S. between 1973 and 2019.

Little wonder we do not have consistently pro-life politicians. They are simply a mirror reflection of the people who have elected them. They are a reflection of us. Let’s stop pretending.

Review: Unforgettable

Unforgettable, Gregory Floyd. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2022.

Summary: Through remembering his life of faith, the author remembers the working of God in all of life’s seasons, giving hope for the future.

This book surprised me in its capacity to evoke memories of my own life. Perhaps it is because the author and I are the same age, lived through the same times, although with different experiences, but on the same journey of faith.

The book began in the author’s experience of caring for his mother during her decline with Alzheimer’s disease and the question of “who are we without our memories?” He started recording his own memories, not ones he searched for but those who came to him. This book is the product of that remembering time.

Perhaps the most defining came in his eighteenth year:

“…in my senior year of high school, I heard his voice. Not audibly, but an impression on my heart, a word pressed into it: Jump. I woke in the middle of the night to a voice that said: ‘Jump, and trust that I will catch you.’ Somehow, I knew this was God speaking, and I decided to jump. If I was correct, I would find myself in the arms of God”

Gregory Floyd, p. 30.

And this is where he found himself. Floyd describes the experience of brokenness and forgiveness, the beauty that finds its focus in Christ. He describes the beginnings of his marriage and the decisions to put God first, even above their love, realizing this is what would bind them most deeply together, as they received God’s gift. He describes creating a family–a large one of nine children, one who died.

One of the quite wonderful passages is the one on the Word, and how scripture speaks to him of the abiding love of God and how one might live in that. He opens his own life of prayer, learning to pray as he can and not as he can’t, taught by the Spirit and shaped by the prayers of scripture. He remembers both the prayers and the silences. He vulnerably shares his journey of wrestling with the loss of a son in an auto accident in front of their home–a parent’s worst nightmare. He is honest about the grief, even after 25 years, as well as the hope of seeing him again and sharing a ‘10,000 year glance.”

His memories move from his own life to the wonders of God in salvation and the splendor of His glory, of which he writes as clearly and reverently as anyone I’ve encountered. He concludes with his growing hope as he grows older and the showing of Julian of Norwich that “all shall be well.” What Floyd discovers in this reflection upon memories is that “God inhabits our memories,” sustaining us with his mercy and grace and taking our past experiences to foster hope for the future.

Why did this book speak so powerfully to me? I found myself walking through the different seasons of life with the author, and remembering the goodness of God, the riches of the scriptures, of prayer, of family, of Christian community down the years. As I approach the end of my seventh decade with the author, I do wonder what lies ahead. One thing is certain. We will die. While we never know when this is, the deaths of classmates, of those five, ten, fifteen or twenty years older reminds me that this is inevitably more imminent than I once thought it was. And what of those intervening years? The reminders of my own memories of the presence of God into whose arms I’ve jumped gives me hope that he will carry my wife and me safe through. The saints who influenced my life who I believe are cheering me on in glory are closer than ever. And every beauty, every gift of each day reminds me of what shall be, the emerald greens of this spring, the pleasures of weeding and planting, of savoring a good book, a symphony, a sunset. Floyd’s book reminds me of the God of grace and providence who has inhabited all my memories, all my days, and promises that “all shall be well.”


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Vicar of Wakefield

The Vicar of Wakefield, Oliver Goldsmith. New York: Penguin Classics, 1986 (originally published in 1766).

Summary: The “memoir” of the vicar, who experiences a series of financial and family disasters, ending up in prison, and how matters resolved themselves.

It was one of the most popular novels of the eighteenth century, and were it not for the poverty of Oliver Goldsmith and the efforts of his friend, Samuel Johnson, it might not have seen the light of day:

“I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and, as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went as soon as I was dressed, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion: I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it and saw its merit; told the landlady I should soon return; and, having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill.”

Samuel Johnson

The story centers around the memoirs of Dr. Charles Primrose, the vicar of a rural parish, who was well-off due to an invested inheritance, enabling him to donate his “living.” On the eve of his son George’s wedding to wealthy Arabella Wilmot, he receives word that his investor has gone bankrupt and skipped town, leaving the Primroses in poverty. The change in status as well as a theological dispute with the bride’s father result in a breaking of the engagement. Things go from bad to worse. They take refuge on the estate of Squire Thornhill, a notorious womanizer. They turn a thatch roofed home into a comfortable refuge while George seeks to support himself in the city, succeeding as an actor. Both son and father are swindled by a smooth-talking “sharp” losing their remaining animals. The family’s hope turns on securing good husbands for the daughters. Squire Thornhill visit and is drawn to Olivia. Then a mysterious gentleman, Mr. Burchell visits, and rescues Sophia from drowning, but Dr. Primrose is reluctant to trust him.

Thornhill heads off any possibility of George and Arabella getting together by arranging a commission to the West Indies, with Goldsmith agreeing to a note to fund George. Meanwhile, Olivia has been abducted, it being thought, by Mr. Burchell, when in fact it was Thornhill, who arranged a fictitious marriage, a tactic he apparently used with several women. Olivia is rescued by Primrose, but shortly after returning home, the house burns, with Primrose being badly burned on the arm, Thornhill calls the note which Primrose cannot pay, and is thrown into jail, while the violated Olivia grows more and more ill and dies.

This is one of those “sentimental” stories where in the end, all things are righted. I won’t say how but I will tell you that even Olivia lives and a succession of weddings and a restoration of Primrose’s fortunes occurs.

It is kind of like the book of Job without Job’s agonizings. Primrose continues to trust to God’s providence and act with rectitude. While wanting to recover what was lost, he is able to be content with little. Even in jail, he embraces his pitiful surroundings and sets about evangelizing the prisoners.

The other feature of this story is its lightning fast reversals–dramatic changes in a sentence or a paragraph. Goldsmith doesn’t let moss grow under his plot. In the end, things turn out as one might hope, but the series of disasters it takes to get there and the seeming impossibility of undoing them might stretch credulity at points.

This was the only novel Goldsmith wrote but it was a good one. After all, don’t we all like a story where good prevails and all who should, live happily ever after? Life isn’t always like this, perhaps one of the reasons for the timelessness of stories like this.

Review: The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us, Susan Wise Anderson. [No publisher information], 2020.

Summary: An argument for a Christ-rooted civility in our politically and culturally polarized climate.

Sarah Bauer Anderson grew up in a political household, with a father, Gary Bauer, who briefly attempted a presidential candidacy. As Sarah grew older she found herself differing with her family on a number of issues they once saw eye to eye. She realized that to not allow those differences to separate them, it meant taking steps to move toward them without feeling the need to make each other into one’s image. She writes this book to describe how her Christian faith informs her approach to closing that space between us–not by agreeing on all the issues but on agreeing on the worth of each other–and even discovering that we like each other and are able to work on matters of common concern.

She chose connection versus distance with her family and describes in pairs of opposites some of the other choices we may make to close the space between us. She contends we need to be present with those with whom we disagree rather than deserting them for our echo chambers. She observes how Jesus included those “out of bounds” in his ministry rather than remaining boxed in. She describes learning that it is more important to develop a posture of wisdom, kindness, and generosity than to be “right” in our positions. Also, there is value in distinguishing beliefs, convictions, and opinions, rather than raising everything to the level of non-negotiable belief.

She urges choosing a politics of faith rather than fear. She distinguishes between enforced peacekeeping and the peacemaking that says that all of us in all of our differences are needed–we need each other. We learn to focus on commonalities rather than exclusivities. The Lord’s table teaches us that we may be re-membered rather than divided because of the one who was broken to make us whole. We recognize that instead of shaming those who disagree with us, we can choose to be curious, and draw closer. We can engage rather than build walls. We can learn names rather than using narratives to exclude. We meet new situations with wonder rather than confining expectations and allow for mystery rather than requiring certainty.

There are some common threads that run through this. Do we live in light of the work of Jesus or only cultural expectations? Do we value positions more than people? And do we choose animus over the value of those with whom we differ?

Emerging from the divisive politics of the last two elections, racial divisions, and the quarrels that arose around public health measures, we have had a glimpse of the abyss of allowing these things to drive us apart? Anderson invites us to step back from the abyss and toward each other. She shares her own journey with her family and others. There are some who consider the divides irreparable, and a politics of division essential. Anderson argues otherwise and describes the richness of drawing toward those with whom she differs, both harder and fuller than hanging with our own echo chambers. Most of all, she invites those of us who name Christ to follow the Christ who was broken for us, who made peace with his broken body.

Review: Nothing Is Impossible

Nothing is Impossible: America’s Reconciliation with Vietnam, Ted Osius, Foreword John Kerry. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2021.

Summary: A memoir by former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, describing how a former enemy became one of America’s strongest international partners, and the important role diplomacy played to bring that about.

The story begins with a conversation between two Vietnam veterans on a flight to Kuwait. John McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam for six years was sitting with John Kerry, a swift boat captain, highly decorated for his actions in an ambush and later reviled for his testimony questioning America’s war aims. Senators from two different parties began talking about getting accounting of POW/MIA servicemen and the restoration of relations with Vietnam that would facilitate that accounting. Their collaboration led to the passage of a measure re-establishing formal relations during the Clinton administration.

That was just the beginning of rebuilding the trust between these two countries shattered by war. This memoir by former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, gives an account of the diplomatic work that has led to Vietnam now being a strong international partner of the United States, resulting in the recovery of remains of many of those missing in action, cleanup of dioxin sites, honoring of the dead who fought with the U.S. as well as establishing vital trade, defense, and environmental collaboration..

Ted Osius was working in the State Department when the mission was established in Vietnam that preceded full diplomatic relations, working with charge’ d’affaires Desaix Anderson as a junior political officer. His work involved establishing everything from military exchanges to assisting Americans in Vietnam when they needed help. He learned the language of Vietnam, and as a cycling enthusiast, toured the country on bicycle, a practice he continued as ambassador, for the access it gave him to ordinary people. His friendship with John Kerry began when they toured part of the country on bikes. When Pete Peterson, a former POW, became ambassador, he told the team: “You’ll get it right 98 percent of the time. As for the other 2 percent, I’ll eat it!” He urged them to take risks and build a new relationship with Vietnam.

A big part of his work, and a theme running through his efforts, was working with the Vietnamese to establish U.S. and global trade relationships. This involved delicate and ongoing negotiations about labor conditions (a major breakthrough came with reforms at a Nike factory) and human rights. They also began the effort to addressing POW/MIA accounting, and for the Vietnamese, the cleanup of dioxin sites, dioxin a chemical used to clear brush that caused numerous birth defects and other health problems. Another theme was developing a collaboration to counter China’s growing regional influence.

Later, in the Bush administration, he served as a science officer, helping with environmental issues on the Mekong River, with disease prevention (including SARS, which led to Vietnam’s strong public health response to COVID-19). His return to the U.S. brought him in contact with other U.S diplomats who were gay including his husband Clayton Bond. When the ambassador role to Vietnam came open in 2012, around the time of the Obama administration’s shift on marriage equality, it became a serious option to pursue the appointment to Vietnam, the country he had come to love. It took until 2014 but he was appointed.

The latter part of the book describes his bicycle diplomacy and the trust that was built through respecting Vietnamese cultural traditions including releasing carp on the Day of the Kitchen Gods. He worked with the country and U.S. experts in clearing unexploded ordinance from the war and on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One of the major efforts was to negotiate with Vietnam’s leadership for TPP membership, which would open up the country to global trade. He helped arrange a visit of the party secretary to Washington, and an eventual visit of President Obama to Vietnam, as well as a visit of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He participated in the establishment of a Fulbright University in Vietnam. And he was able to find a way to renovate the Bien Hoa Cemetery, where many South Vietnamese soldiers were bury in a neglected burial ground, an important desire of Vietnamese-American ex-pats, but politically sensitive.

He stayed into the early Trump administration, when his advice differed from administration priorities, resulting in a sudden replacement. Shortly afterwards, Osius retired from the State Department.

The memoir is an education in the work of an effective ambassador, both representing American policy with due diligence, supporting American business interests and caring for American citizens in country while building respect and trust in the host country. Osius’s willingness to learn the language, cycle the country, honor cultural practices and places, and listen carefully to high officials led to working on military, economic, environmental, and human rights issues. Vietnam became an important partner as both the U.S. and Vietnam faced a growing Chinese presence in the South China Sea. Osius learned and respected the David and Goliath history of Vietnam, that included its defeat of the U.S. in conflict. He learned that we get farther honoring David than reprising Goliath.

Vietnam still honors human rights in the breach but Osius could point to progress. The government is Communist, a single party dominating the government. But during the twenty-year period the book covers, one sees how two former adversaries could develop amicable relations while remaining different. They could work on common interests and try to persuade the other where they differ, while benefiting the people of both countries. That is diplomatic work at its best. Would that it were so everywhere!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book via Edelweiss from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Youngstown One Hundred Years Ago: A Snapshot

I have a pretty good memory of fifty years ago in Youngstown. I was enjoying my last weeks as a senior at Chaney High School. We’d had our prom and had just a few more weeks of class, finals, and then commencement.

I doubt any of us remember 100 years ago. This was around the time many of our parents were born. I thought it would be fun to take a look at The Vindicator from 100 years ago to get a glimpse of life back then. The closest to today I could get was the issue for Tuesday, May 23, 1922.

It was interesting that the paper led with a good news story even though City Council had voted to fire 25 police. Perhaps they had better sense and paying attention to civic-minded generosity to the Community Chest, the United Way of the day, was in the long run of greater value than squabbles at city hall.

Now for that police story. I wrote some time back about George Oles, the grocer who ran, as a joke at first, for mayor, and won. He was a reformer and saw a city that was deficit spending. The story describes acrimonious debate with Oles refuting false accusations before the measure to cut the police finally passed by a 9-6 vote (City Council was larger back then). Oles won this battle, at least temporarily, but lost the war. Just a month and a half later, July 1, 1922, he resigned after only six months in office. Political controversy has a long history in the city.

Several of the stories were national stories. Governor General Wood, the top government officer when the Philippines were basically a U.S. colony, took shelter behind an island and was in communication 36 hours later. He lived until 1927. To the question of a man kidnapping his wife, the answer is yes. As you might assume, it was an unhappy marriage, she had separated and sued for divorce, and he, a captain of industry, seized her against her will. She got free and had him arrested! The other kidnapping story probably caught the attention of locals who bought bread from the Ward Baking Company. The owner refused to pay the ransom for his son, so the son took matters into his own hands and shot his kidnapper! That raises as many questions as it answers!

Down the page is a story about a report on good authority that the Ku Klux Klan had a branch in Youngstown. Sadly, by the end of 1923, most of the political leadership including the mayor, and the school board in Youngstown would be Klan-endorsed. Sadly, they enjoyed support from many churches. Two notable exceptions were First Presbyterian Church and The Vindicator. William Jenkins, a YSU history professor wrote a history of Klan involvement in the Ohio that I reviewed elsewhere on this blog. By 1924, their influence waned.

A page 3 story indicates at this time efforts were being made to move Mill Creek Park to control by the city rather than The Park Commission but council refused to act, fearing loss of revenues going to the park commission. Over the years, funding and leadership of the park periodically has been an issue, apparently.

Some commercial highlights from elsewhere in the paper:

  • Fordyce’s was having a blue ribbon sale with the following priced at a dollar: boys knickers, men’s dress shirts, a pair of long silk gloves and two pairs of short silk gloves, girls tub frocks, panty dresses, girls rain capes, and much more!
  • Meat was on sale at George Oles’ Fulton Market with fancy sugar bacon at 21 cents a pound, cured hams for 18 cents a pound, and chopped steak for 10 cents a pound.
  • The Glering Bottling Co. advertised Orange Crush at 5 cents a bottle. Elsewhere they had ads for Coca-Cola for 5 cents and Budweiser for 15 cents. Amazing that all those brands have lasted 100 years!
  • You could buy men’s dress oxfords for $3.98 at McFadden’s.
  • Stambaugh-Thompson’s was advertising “The Greatest Tire Sale Youngstown Has Ever Seen” with tires as low as $12.55 with warranties of up to 8,000 miles! They also advertised clothes line posts for $1.45, a reminder of how everyone used to dry their clothes, even in my childhood.
  • McKelvey’s advertised lingerie of silk and fine muslin and announced that “Miss Hoban (Corseting Expert) Is Here All This Week Demonstrating the Binner Corset” while Strouss-Hirshberg advertised Women’s Dainty Silk Dresses at sale prices of $39.50 and $24.75.

The big entertainment news was that the Scotti Grand Opera was at the Park Theatre performing Carmen as a matinee and L’Oracolo and La Boheme in the evening. That’s a lot of opera for one day! And “Adam and Eva” was at the Hippodrome Theatre. I’m curious as to whether the Park was the same place that later became a burlesque theatre.

Then, as now, this was the time of the year to recognize the accomplishments of local high school students. This picture accompanied the headline “Nineteen Students in Honor Group at Rayen This Year.” Look at how dressed up all of them are, including jackets and ties for all the men! All the students names are included in the article.

Syndicated comics of the day included “Bringing Up Father,” “Pa’s Son-In-Law,” “Polly and Her Pals,” “Toots and Casper” and this moral tale titled “Cicero and Sapp.”

As I said, this is but a snapshot of Youngstown 100 years ago, and a selective one at that. One of the richest sources of historical information about the city is the Vindicator archive in the Google News Archive, which contains scans of The Vindicator from 1893 to 1984. Then, as now, advertising paid the bills and occupies a lot of space, but the fashions and prices, and sometimes the technology, are so different. The issues then and now seem not so different–cities then as now struggle with budgets and how to maintain and develop a livable place. Only the particulars and the personalities are different. If you have the time, I think you’ll find reading these old papers a fascinating way to learn about our hometown.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Review: From Judgement to Hope

From Judgment to Hope, Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019.

Summary: A survey study of the prophets centering on the movement in these books from judgment to hope.

Walter Brueggemann is one of the foremost scholars on the prophetic literature in the Bible. This book represents a distillation of his scholarship, suited for an adult education course in a church or other group. He focuses on a common thread running through the books, a movement from judgment to hope similar to the New Testament movement from cross to resurrection to return in glory. He helps us understand the prophets in their historical context, their canonical context, and our contemporary context.

He begins with a chapter on the three major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel offering this summary:

  • Isaiah: Jerusalem lost and renewed
  • Jeremiah: covenant broken and restored
  • Ezekial: temple nullified and revivified

Brueggemann, like many scholars, adheres to a “three Isaiah” approach to Isaiah and devotes a chapter to First Isaiah and one to Second and Third Isaiah. First Isaiah traces the announcements of God’s justice due to the people’s injustices, the temporary salvation and eventual fall of Jerusalem, culminating in that fall and hope for restoration. Second Isaiah begins with the highway for our God and culminates with Israel the Servant. The discussion of Third Isaiah centers on the house of prayer for all peoples, God’s chosen fast, and the Spirit of the Lord speaking through the prophet of the new Jerusalem.

Then Brueggemann reviews the “Minor Prophets” in four groups of three, with correspondence to the major prophets:

  • The eight century BCE prophets (Isaiah)
    • Amos: justice and righteousness
    • Hosea: steadfast love and knowledge of God
    • Micah: justice and kindness
  • The seventh century BCE prophets (Jeremiah) — focusing on punishment, both covenantal and cosmic dimensions
    • Nahum
    • Habakkuk
    • Zephaniah
  • The sixth century BCE prophets (Ezekiel) — focusing on restoration, both covenantal and cosmic dimensions
    • Haggai
    • Zechariah
    • Malachi
  • The outliers
    • Jonah
    • Obadiah
    • Joel

Brueggemann only focuses individual chapters on the eight and sixth century BCE prophets. Patricia K. Tull supplements Brueggemann’s work with an introductory overview and a book by book summary in rough chronological order. In the after matter, you will also find a timeline placing the books along key events, familiar quotations from Isaiah and a brief glossary.

This work does offer an introduction to the major contours of the prophetic books, but aside from reflection questions that seem better suited to individual reading, does not seem well-organized for an adult course. It is a good review, though it seems quite cursory especially in its treatment of the seventh century minor prophets and the “outliers.” Frankly, this was a bit disappointing for a Brueggemann work, and unless you are collecting everything he has written, I would pass this one by.

Review: The Rule of Laws

The Rule of Laws, Fernanda Pirie. New York: Basic Books, 2021.

Summary: A four thousand-year history of the ways different cultures have ordered their societies through various forms of law.

Every group of people develops rules to order their life together. And this has been true throughout history, whether through rulings of the city elders at the gate resolving various disputes through various legal codes. Fernanda Pirie set herself the task in this book of describing and making some sense of the four thousand year global history of laws in their various forms.

She identifies three major streams of law, the Mesopotamian that influenced the West, the Indian Brahmin, and that of China, influence much of east and southeast Asia. The book consists of three parts: the visions of order that accounted for the rise of these traditions from the Code of Hammurabi through to the European courts that arose in the wake of the fall of Rome; the development of these traditions in the Medieval period tracing the expansion upon religious law, imperial law in China and the courts and customs of Europe; and finally, law in the modern law and the development of the rule of law in western democracies and its import into colonial situations, the growth of Islamic Law, and the expansion of international law.

She traces a common thread through history: the use and development of law to order society–punishing murder, compensating injuries and damages, regulating marriage, family, and inheritance, protecting property and regulating commerce. She explores the various forms of laws from case laws to legal codes and common law, administrative structures to promulgate and implement legal codes from trade associations to royal courts, and the judicial structures to adjudicate disputes, determining guilt and innocence, and passing sentences. One of the most fascinating chapters traced the use of ordeal when the veracity of witnesses could not be readily discerned to the subsequent development of rules of evidence and trials by a jury of one’s peers. What is also striking is the fascinating array of ways in which all this was implemented from mediators to local to royal rulers and emperors, to our modern courts.

For me, the book alternated between fascinating discussions and hard slogs through an array of practices and their variations in various European royal courts, along with movement, often within chapters from European to Islamic to Chinese systems. The array of detail made it difficult at times to see the forest for all the individually interesting trees. I found it hard to discern a larger argument or structure with the mass of descriptive detail, apart from the overview and concluding discussions of the universal development of legal systems to organize social life.

Perhaps it is the task this author set herself, one for which she evidences obvious enthusiasm, to render a global history of law in under 460 pages of text. The tension between comprehensiveness and elegant structure must have been a challenge. The work has this in its favor, it is free of legal jargon and highly readable over all. And it raises the profound question of why so many and various cultures found it necessary to use laws to order their lives.

Review: What Are Christians For?

What Are Christians For?, Jake Meador. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022.

Summary: An argument for a Christian politics that recognizes the goodness of all creation including all peoples, that rejects the manipulation of people and places and our own bodies that disregards their nature.

Jake Meador begins this work with the story of Father Ted, who helped a journalist covering apartheid South Africa, escape house arrest and the country. He represents to Meador a kingdom politics committed to life for the whole of life. Meador argues that much of American Christianity divorces faith from creation, from our embodied life, and other human beings, all for our own political and economic ends.

Drawing on the work of Herman Bavinck and Willie Jennings, he describes the immense inheritance we have inherited in the creation and one another. We repudiate this in our Western disregard of both the places we inhabit, living in accord with the particular character of that place, and in our colonization, in our disregard the peoples there before us. The particular expression of our alienation from God for those in the West is the exaltation of whiteness, and the oppression of others. Our reductionist education results in a loss of wonder.

Another reformer points the way back. Martin Bucer taught that the renewal of our relationship with God in Christ renews our relationship to neighbor, to proper governance, and to the care of the land. We learn again to accept the givenness of nature and our place in it. We embrace the household, marriage, and sexuality lived within that relationship, and lives of faithfulness to one another in sickness and health. And we embrace the larger community of God’s people in a particular place. Meador upholds the model of the Bruderhof, who renounce private ownership of material possessions. He advocates for the more challenging work of being this community in one’s own city and neighborhood.

I’m wrestling with my reaction to this book. Meador has great facility for drawing together the work of various theologians, philosophers, and writers, along with some great personal stories. Yet I found the thread of this argument not easy to follow, and a more prolix statement of what Wendell Berry articulates so straightforwardly in What Are People For? and other essays. But it is an important and perceptive argument. The gospel not only restores us to God but to our embodied existence, each other as families and communities, states and the world, and to God’s good earth. It is apparent that our politically and economically captive churches have not heard this enough and this message is so urgent that it cannot be spoken and written and lived enough, until we recover a sense of what Christians are for.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.